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story.lead_photo.caption Michael Riley and Christopher Stewart, juniors in Liberty-Eylau High School's welding program, work on repairing desks sent over from another L-EISD school. Students leave the program with the skills and ability to get a job in the field right out of high school. Photo by Kelsi Brinkmeyer / Texarkana Gazette.

Through connections, expanded opportunities and resourcefulness, Liberty-Eylau High School's Career Tech Education program has saved L-E Independent School District thousands of dollars with the fabrication and welding of useful materials.

Whether it be crafting new hand-sanitizing stations from raw materials, building a cutting table from extra metal in the shop or building props for the band with available resources, L-E High's welding students have applied their teachings to help out their district.

Communication Director Matt Fry said the district needed a large amount of hand-sanitizing stations in August and they would have cost $140 a piece to buy. When the supplier told them they couldn't get any more in, the CTE department welded 30 identical stations, and the automotive department painted them.

When the welding class needed a new cutting table after their old one wore down, it would have cost about $2,000 to purchase a new one. Instead, they used extra metal in the shop to build a new one with a catch pan for dross from cutting metal, completed with a senior signature.

They also built six band props for about the price of what one would've cost to have built for them, in addition to many other materials for the band.

"If we bought all the props we have used it would have come to $30,400," Assistant Band Director T'Randle Taylor said. "The average that we spent on the materials came to $8,000 the past two years. So they saved us about $22,400 over two years with free labor."

And these are just a few examples. Welding teacher Ray Howell said the best part is that these projects provide applicable, real-world experience for his students.

"We're trying to get students to come right out of this program and go to the workforce," he said. "That's the goal. Not all students want to go to a secondary school. They want to come out and go right to work."

Howell, who has been at L-E HIgh for three years, but has spent much longer than that in the welding business, uses his connections at places like Ledwell Machinery, JCM Industries and Smith-Blair Inc. to get a better idea of what they're looking for in an entry-level employee.

He said taking on projects provides the lessons of trial and error that prepare his 94 welding students for the workforce.

L-E High's CTE program offers 16 industry certifications, with a four-year welding program and practicum course offered.

Howell said the curriculum for a welding student is a balance of learning the material in the classroom and applying it in their shop, but the application is not just to get an assignment done. It's to prepare them for what they'll see as a future employee.

To help do this effectively, they're donated a large portion of their materials from companies like Miller Welding, where Howell used to work, that students get to work with. This provides them with hands-on experience of machinery they'd need to be familiar with moving forward.

They also offer Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) training and testing for certification, which Howell says is often something only offered in college.

The program tries to create a symbiotic relationship between students and their future local employers.

"We just try to get with the industry and learn exactly what they're expecting out of our students, and then our student is learning what to expect out of them," Howell said. "It's kind of both ways."

Fry said the entire CTE program is made up of teachers who come from careers in what they're teaching.

"Rodney Fellers, who runs auto, ran Kason Transmissions for 30 years," he said. "Mr. Howell has done this his entire life. Alicia Prater (culinary teacher) is a chef. All of that stuff makes it real-world."

And the program is still expanding. The welding class was recently awarded a grant for new digital welding equipment, and Howell says they are working on competing in the SkillsUSA challenge next year.

Fry and Howell agreed that they hope CTE can continue to consistently prepare students for the workforce, and if their projects save some money in the process, so be it.

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